Clicky

Friday, January 15th, 2021

Medical societies criticize DHS proposed visa change rule for harm it will cause to COVID-19 response

© Shutterstock

In comments made to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) this week, major medical societies blasted efforts to change visa rules, citing concerns over limits the “arbitrary and disruptive” change would impose and pleading for exemptions for physicians.

Together, the societies — which included the Infectious Diseases Society of America, HIV Medicine Association, Pediatric Diseases Society, and the Society of Healthcare Epidemiology of America — represent more than 14,000 infectious diseases and HIV physicians, scientists, researchers, and other healthcare and public health professionals throughout the country.

“This proposed policy change would severely affect the dwindling number of J-1 physicians’ availability to deliver infectious diseases care for patients and further jeopardize the nation’s ability to effectively respond to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency,” leaders of the organizations wrote in a letter.

The rule being proposed by the DHS is known as “Establishing a Fixed Time Period of Admission and an Extension of Stay Procedure for Nonimmigrant Academic Students, Exchange Visitors, and Representatives of Foreign Information Media.” It proposes a four-year length of stay requirement on J-1 physicians and would require yearly applications for extensions. DHS claims this is necessary to monitor and oversee nonimmigrants efficiently.

Already, the number of physicians specializing in infectious diseases and HIV falls short of need, according to the letter writers. Of those who remain, about a third entering these fields came from outside the country on J-1 visas. The writers pointed to their contributions to the field, from research to patient care and help for the underserved.

“Our members report a tremendous need for additional J-1 visa slots for ID and HIV physicians in the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly at institutions in states that have been hard-hit by COVID-19,” the comments said.

The writers dismissed claims from the DHS about its ability to monitor these physicians while noting the framework already established by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education that requires teaching hospitals to provide residents and fellows appropriate supervision and confirmation of ongoing participation.